Ministry official: Russia not likely to change soon, EU and NATO key

Jonatan Vseviov.
Jonatan Vseviov. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Foreign ministry Secretary General Jonatan Vseviov says there are no signs that the Russian Federation will ratify the border treaty with Estonia any time soon. Estonia in any case must not only take a united stance with both its European Union and NATO allies, he said, echoing both his ministry's and the foreign secret service's stance on the matter, but also show the way for theses allies as awareness of Russian actions increases in the wake of the recent Josep Borrel visit to Moscow.

Appearing on ETV politics show "Esimene stuudio" Wednesday evening, Vseviov, who until recently served as Estonian ambassador to both the U.S. and to Mexico, said that Estonia's political choice is a desire to move forward with the Estonian-Russian border agreement, which has long awaited Russian ratification.

At the same time, Vseviov said that Russia was not interested in doing so in the near future, while Estonia could not ratify the treaty unilaterally.

1920 border differs from present-day line

Vseviov said: "Everyone understands that one agreement between two parties cannot be either frozen out or heated up by one party. The birth otherwise of a border agreement also depends on Russia, and Russia's willingness to move forward with it. At present, at least, I have not seen any indication Russia, at least in the near future, intends to move forward on this issue. But as we know, sometimes surprises are possible in international affairs."

Previous foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) said last year that the original 1920 Tartu Peace Treaty, which ended the Estonian War of Independence and delineated the border between Estonia and the fledgling Soviet Russian state, was from the point of view of international law still in force.

However, not only was Estonia under Soviet occupation from 1940, and again from 1944 until the restoration of independence in 1991, but also the 1920 border ran somewhat to the east of the current border (which demarcated the Estonian SSR from the Russian and Latvian republics). While there are no border issues with Latvia, the present-day Russian city of Pechory had in the interwar period been the town of Petseri, in the interwar period, with it and its environs lying in Estonian territory.

Estonia ready to move forward with ratification

Similarly, territory on the eastern bank of the Narva River, including the former Estonian city of Jaanilinn (present day Ivangorod – a direct translation of the name – in Russia), now lies in the Russian Federation. Ratification of the border treaty as it stands would imply that this territory was now in Estonia.

Foreign minister Eva-Maria Liimets (Reform) confirmed Tuesday, at the annual foreign ministry Riigikogu speech, her government's readiness to move forward with the ratification.

A Foreign Intelligence Service (Välisluuramet) report released Wednesday says Russia is stepping up a potential face-off with NATO, which Estonia is a member of.

Vseviov said that Estonian authorities are working to ensure the Estonian public need not have to worry about security, though at the same time, the Estonian state, its statehood and security should not be thought of as givens, he went on.

"There has been no sudden change – as indeed the  Foreign Intelligence Service notes in its report – in our security environment. However, global security as a whole, and certainly in our region, is something that we have to towards every day, and Estonian diplomats are doing this," Vseviov went on.

"it is very difficult for me as a person or a political observer to see how Russia will benefit in the long run," he said.

Vseviov: Borrell visit a watershed

The recent Moscow visit of High Representative of the European Union Josep Borrell and accompanying fall-out has opened Estonia's allies eyes, Vseviov added, noting that it was vindication of what Estonia has been saying all along.

"Certainly, what we have been talking about all the time is now much more comprehensible, because we now have a clear example of why even a diligent attempt to engage in dialogue does not necessarily produce a practical political result," Vseviov said.

Estonia is now also working to ensure EU policy towards Russia is both principled and consistent, going forward, while the next meeting of EU foreign ministers is likely to bring good news to those countries that believe that they must be determined when talking to Russia, he said.

Vseviov: Benefits to Russia in its long-game not apparent

"Russia's behavior is determined by those in power there, and we are forced to react to these steps one way or another. Our efforts are aimed at making these reactions not those of Estonia alone, or of Latvia and Lithuania, but the joint reactions of the allies at both the EU and NATO level, especially when we are talking about security," he added.

At the same time, Russia's expulsion of three EU diplomats from Germany, Poland and Sweden (which in turn expelled a Russian diplomat each – ed.) who had attended pro-Navalny protests at precisely the same time Borrell was in Moscow represented a shooting of itself in the foot, Vseviov went on, which, added to events beginning with the 2014 annexation of the Crimea and the ongoing insurgency war in eastern Ukraine, through to last year's poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, plus his current incarceration, all serve to underscore this.

"It is very difficult for me as a person or a political observer to see how Russia will benefit in the long run," Vseviov said.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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